Science & Technology

Science news

Before plate tectonics, the Earth may have been covered by one giant shell

Mar 27, 2017
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USGS

The Earth’s outer layer is split into slabs, called tectonic plates. As the plates slide across the Earth’s surface, their constant, often violent interactions with one another create volcanoes, earthquakes, rifts and mountain ranges. But the Earth may not always have been shaped this way.

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Max DeRoin. CC0. 

Like many freelancers, Rochelle LaPlante is paid by the piece. “So, I have to balance doing it fast enough to make it worth my time, but also make sure I'm doing high-quality work,” she says.

But LaPlante’s job isn’t the writing or design work you might expect in today’s gig economy. She’s an independent content moderator, tasked with keeping unwanted, sometimes graphic content off the social apps and websites we use every day. “So, it's like modern-day piecework, but with the added layer of psychological stress,” she says.

Retelling the Story of the BP Oil Spill

Mar 25, 2017

Can Geometry Root Out Gerrymandering?

Mar 25, 2017

Training Docs Around the Clock

Mar 25, 2017
Images of MRI scans
Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities

One in 68 children in the United States will develop autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The field of autism research has grown rapidly in the past few decades, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is at the forefront of much of this discovery

Bacteria are thriving in the sky — and they influence the weather

Mar 22, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/chriswaits/13870530113/">Chris Waits</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>

Ever since Antoni van Leeuwenhoek first observed “animalcules” through a microscope in the late 1600s, we’ve been finding bacteria all over. They’ve been discovered in deep sea vents, on human skin, and deep in Antarctic ice. There are even bacteria all the way up in the clouds. Strange and wonderful, no?

There's a sweet new test for pee in the pool

Mar 21, 2017
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tpsdave/Creative Commons

The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium (ACE) can be found in everything from chewing gum, to baked goods, to the packets of sugar substitute on restaurant tables. But researchers at the University of Alberta recently made headlines with the announcement that they’d found ACE somewhere else: in 31 swimming pools and hot tubs.

Another way to grow crops — by laying down the plow

Mar 20, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/12752977894/">US Department of Agriculture</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

At a time when many modern farmers face problems like soil erosion, nutrient loss and drought, the black dirt on Doug Palen’s family farm is a field apart: Its health and texture just keep improving.

“Its organic matter continues to rise, and it just continues to perform even better than it did,” Palen says.

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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bearpark/2706701983/">Simon James</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Here’s an unexpected story: Scientists are working on a drug to stimulate ear hair growth.

In this case, the ear hairs in question are actually tiny, sensory hair cells in our cochlea. We have about 15,000 of them in each ear, and they’re crucial to helping us detect sound waves. But the little cells are also very fragile.

New report gives cautious support for embryonic gene editing in humans

Mar 19, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/lunarcaustic/3233482244">lunar caustic</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Last month, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine released a report about the use of gene editing techniques like CRISPR on human embryos. The new report, coming from two globally respected scientific organizations, suggests the technique could be warranted in certain cases — not just in the laboratory, but in real life.

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Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA was big on the internet in late February, when it announced that scientists had discovered seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star, 40 light-years away.

The planets are closer to their cool star than Mercury is to the sun, and scientists think they could all be temperate enough to hold liquid water — a key ingredient for life. Not surprisingly, the scientific community is abuzz about what the planets hold, water and otherwise.

Why Are We Here? Physics Has Answers.

Mar 18, 2017

Visualizing the Beauty of Vibrato

Mar 18, 2017

Trump’s plan for the EPA is death by ‘a thousand cuts’

Mar 17, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/7687126@N06/5033915021/">Mike</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">CC BY-ND 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

If President Donald Trump has his way, the Environmental Protection Agency will be downsized quite a bit: 31 percent, with more than 50 programs eliminated, as laid out in his budget proposal released on Thursday. But penny-pinching isn’t the only tool his administration and Republican lawmakers have at their disposal, to undermine the agency.  

As two environmental law experts explain, different congressional actions and executive orders can also be used to chip away at the EPA. Some already have.   

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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/santea/16553031695">Alexander Lyubavin</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

It may look like shrink wrap, but a film recently developed by a team of researchers has a secret power: It’s incredibly sensitive to temperature.

“Just to give you a sense, it … can detect, for example, the presence of warm bodies like a rabbit, or a human body or a hand at a distance of up to a meter,” says Chiara Daraio, a professor of mechanical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and a co-author of the new study, published in Science Robotics.

The very real science behind 'The Expanse'

Mar 13, 2017

Imagine for a moment that we’ve colonized Mars and the asteroid belt. We mine the asteroid belt for ice and minerals and live — not always peacefully — in different factions, split up across the solar system.

Mining nature for the next groundbreaking antibiotic

Mar 12, 2017
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qimono/CC0.

It’s been just shy of 90 years since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in his London lab, but as the World Health Organization recently cautioned, we’re already headed for a “post-antibiotic era.”

Trump Versus the EPA

Mar 11, 2017

Scrap Your Dinner Plans

Mar 11, 2017

In the future, people might really wear their emotions on their sleeves

Mar 10, 2017

Picking up on subtle cues in our conversations with other people is tough — and it can be even trickier for people with social anxiety or Asperger’s syndrome.

What could happen to net neutrality under the new FCC?

Mar 9, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/freepress/14743736905/">Stacie Isabella Turk/Ribbonhead</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>. Image cropped.

In 2015, after much public debate, the Federal Communications Commission passed rules mandating net neutrality — the idea that all data should be treated equally by internet service providers. The rules labeled broadband internet a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

Scientists are trying to make the perfect battery

Mar 5, 2017
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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kmdoncaster/27080461903/">Kevin Doncaster</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Lithium-ion batteries power everything from our laptops to phones to electric vehicles, but they’re far from perfect. In fact, they were the culprits behind Samsung’s recent exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones. 

“The word ‘bomb’ is not out of place here,” says David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance and the host of NOVA’s documentary “The Search for the Super Battery.”

Scientists make a battery that runs on stomach acid

Mar 4, 2017
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<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lemon_battery_experiment.JPG#/media/File:Lemon_battery_experiment.JPG">ChristianSW</a>. Own work/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/">CC BY 3.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

A new wave of “ingestible electronics” is poised to transform health care from the inside out. Researchers are experimenting with sensors that can wirelessly monitor vital signs like heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature from the squishy interior of our gastrointestinal tract.

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